competition · Crossfit · Rowing

2 km erg test: How far the mighty have fallen


I’m not rowing these days. Not just because it’s winter. I’m also not training indoors with the London Rowing Club.

I first stopped when I was helping to care for a seriously ill family member but even after her death I didn’t go back. I loved rowing but it wasn’t a perfect fit. There wasn’t enough local racing to keep me interested. The time spent driving versus the time spent racing seemed all wrong in the case of out of town regettas. Most importantly though my work travel schedule doesn’t fit well with taking a seat in a racing boat. I’m just away too much.

I’m okay with that. Really.

I loved rowing and expect I’ll do it again some day. I’m still excited and nervous when confronted with a 2 km erg test. When I first started indoor training for rowing, I wrote about the monthly 2 km erg tests. I liked the erg more than I thought I would and I actually won the masters women class in a local ergatta and blogged about that too here.

At CrossFit the other day, a timed 2000 m row was part of the workout. Yikes. Coach Dave asked if we had a best time we wanted to beat. The thing is I do have a best time, see posts linked above for details, but when I’m only training on the erg occasionally at CrossFit I can’t honestly expect to beat it. I settled on a time above my best ever time and aimed for that instead.

I was chatting that day with two other women who were trying to balance different goals, with varying degrees of commitments to different sports. I can rank the various things I do: cycling, Aikido, CrossFit, running…

I’m not quite a Jill of all sports, it’s easier to think of me as a polyamorous athlete with primary and secondary, etc commitments to various sports.

Rowing, I’m sorry. When I think about it that way you’re at best an occasional date.

I’ll keep my best ever 2 km time in my sights but I won’t sweat it too much if I fall short.



Thinking about CrossFit in the New Year?

Of all the things I do, the one that intrigues non participants the most seems to be CrossFit. I get asked often about what it’s like and I find people have a lot of misconceptions.

As we approach the new year, I know lots of people are starting to think about beginning new programs of exercise, including CrossFit. Here’s my two cents.


First, what’s CrossFit all about anyway? Here’s the official line:

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit involves a series of short-interval exercises that, done day after day, will result in an overall stronger, fitter you. It is designed to improve 10 physical attributes: cardiovascular/respiratory resistance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.

Workouts of the Day or WODs are constantly varied and are typically short (20 minutes or less) and intense, demanding all-out physical exertion. Classes consist of a warm-up, strength training, WOD and cool down with mobility. They typically last around 45 – 60 minutes and can be scaled for all fitness levels.

If you’re thinking about starting CrossFit, here’s my advice. Keep in mind that I’m me. YMMV, as they say. I’m a 50 year old reasonably physically fit woman. I’m not easily intimated. I’m a pretty large woman. And I like high intensity physical activity and thrive when presented with challenges. I’ve been doing CrossFit for a couple of years, here in London, Ontario and also in Dunedin, New Zealand, where I first started.

First, it’s not just for already fit athletes. I hear a lot of people talk about getting in shape to join CrossFit but that’s just silly. I can see how you might think that if your main exposure to CrossFit is through the CrossFit games on television but in the real world, there’s a wide range of people doing CrossFit. The slogan at the London CrossFit box might be “forging elite fitness” but there a lot of regular people there just having fun and doing their best.

In fact, the CrossFit workouts are incredibly scalable to different levels. See my post Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts

And if you don’t believe me here’s someone talking about the message they heard at their level 1 CrossFit certification:

“If you think we are programming for (elite) athletes, you are dead wrong; they are but a fraction of the people working out in our gyms. What we do scales for the 70 year old grandmother as well as elite athletes.”

Second, it’s not just for twenty somethings. Yes, there are a lot of twenty somethings there but there are also a lot of people in their forties, fifties, and beyond. Here is my favorite CrossFit image, of a deadlifting grandma.


Third, it won’t necessarily transform the way your body looks. It will change the way your body works. You’ll get stronger, fitter, faster, and generally more powerful but not everybody ends up looking like the images you find if you Google “women and CrossFit.” See CrossFit and women’s bodies. My only positive thought is that all the beautiful strong body images help counteract the idea that lifting makes women big and bulky. Personally, I’m not afraid of big and bulky. Come visit. In the real world of CrossFit you see women of all shapes and sizes. The cool thing isn’t how they look. It’s how much they lift.

I like thinking of the slogan “strong is the new skinny” as a shift to performance from aesthetics but I know I’m in the minority. Still, CrossFit is the environment where I hear very little from other women about weight, about diets, and about percent body fat. Mostly, the women talk about their goals in terms of strength.

Fourth, there’s a lot of coaching and instruction. I hear a lot of complaints from people who do other kinds of lifting about CrossFit coaching but in my experience those worries are way off the mark. Typically people complain about the number of participants to coaches and they worry about new people trying difficult lifts without supervision. In the places I’ve attended there’s nothing further from the truth. First, there’s a structured entry program where you learn the basics. Second, there’s a lot of attention from coaches while you lift.

Usually we have about a dozen athletes and one coach. That seems just right to me.

I can’t imagine learning to deadlift by myself in the gym. CrossFit is a terrific alternative.

I think maybe these complaints come from places where CrossFit is wildly popular and there are crowded understaffed classes. But that’s never been my experience.

Okay, what’s a typical class like?

It starts with a 10 min warm up, on your own. I used to hate the “on your own” bit and wanted someone to tell me what to do but I’ve come to see its virtues. People come to CrossFit with different strengths and weaknesses and while we all need to do a bit of cardio warm up (there’s skipping ropes, rowing machines, and a bike) and some mobility work to warm up joints before lifting often we also have our own body parts that require special attention.

Next there’s the bit that I think of as skill work. It’s not timed. There’s no race. The emphasis is on getting a particular lift right. Sometimes our focus is a certain part of the lift. Other times it’s strength and going for new personal bests. But it’s focused and careful. We usually work in small groups.

Today we worked on back squats, working up to 8 sets of 2 at 70% of your one rep max. I like that the groups are broken down by strength not gender and while it’s mostly women at the lighter end of the room, and mostly men at the heavier end, in the middle, where I’m often found there’s a good mix of men and women.

Then we put weights away and look at the Work Out of the Day (WOD) on the white board.

Today’s was 3 rounds of the following:
7 Push Press (Rx, or recommended, weight for women 30 kg)
30 push ups
30 air squats.

When you’re done you yell “time” and your time gets written on the board. I did it in 8:11.

I used the RX weight for the push press but I can only get out 10 push ups if I do them from the toes. So I scaled the workout and that’s okay. Possible scaling is discussed in advance. Some people lowered the weight and a woman with knee injuries substituted sit ups for the air squats.

At the end, you put away gear and stretch. I usually leave sweaty and smiling.

Come play sometime!

See also Can Feminists Find a Home in Crossfit? and Six Things I Love about CrossFit



Aikido · Crossfit · cycling

November goals

helo november

I find it helps to have short term goals, medium term goals, and long term goals. Five years from now, what do I want to do be doing? What do I want to do next summer? But also, what do I want to do in November?

I’ll confess that November isn’t my favorite month. It’s the start of the cold and the dark, for one. It’s also the anniversary of my sister’s death and that makes me sad. And it’s also that point in the university term when I’m up to my ears in meetings, writing letters of recommendation, grading papers, preparing lectures, giving talks, etc etc etc.

So it’s good to have something else to focus on. For November I have three things I want to accomplish.

First, I’m training to test in Aikido. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get to test. Lots to learn and new skills to master between now and the test date, November 22. I’m committed to the process even if my progress is slow. Aikido, like yoga, is a practice. You can read about what’s on my test here: Training for my 4th Kyu Test in Aikido.

Second, I’m getting back to CrossFit  after taking the summer off due to injury (stupid knee), learning to once again to fit early morning high intensity exercise back into my schedule. The challenge is, as always, getting to bed early enough so I can get eight hours sleep and make it to a 6 am workout. The math isn’t pretty.

Third, I’ve never used a trainer over the winter before though I’ve done other things. See Seven winter cycling options (I’ve tried them all!) But this winter I’ve committed to working with a cycling coach and that’s part of our plan. I bought the trainer below and it just arrived in the mail. Now that weekday evening rides are over, Tracy and I will be both taking trainer classes with Coach Chris. and with Cheryl of Happy is the New Healthy. I hope to still get out on my actual bike in the actual outdoors on the weekends when I aim for the middle of the day when it’s lighter and warmer.

November can be a tough month for me fitness wise. University life is super busy, there’s no challenging rides to keep in shape for, and it’s tempting to let everything slide, rest, and start fresh in January. But this year I have other plans. A change is as good as a rest, my grandmother used to say.

Wish me luck!

What do you have planned for November?

body image · Crossfit · media

Does one of the fittest women in the world need Photoshop?

Box Magazine thinks so.

See the discussion on reddit, Box Magazine clearly photo shopped Camille’s stomach.

To the question, who cares, one commentator on reddit replied,

“They did the same thing to Annie last year. This isn’t ‘retouching’. Retouching is removing a blemish or shadow, straightening a line on clothes, or removing stray hairs. THIS is removing body parts.

“Who the hell cares?” Well. For Camille, she’s a strong, athletic woman. That should be celebrated, and it isn’t. Even in the magazine that dedicates itself to crossfitters she’s too strong, too muscled, and too developed. She isn’t sexy or soft enough, so she gets whittled down. Why WOULDN’T we as a community care about that?”

A reader pointed out there’s also a great discussion over on Camille’s Facebook page where she shared the photo of the cover. Lots of other people in the comment thread (worth reading, for a change, thanks SK for the heads up) shared pretty muscly looking pictures of Camille and most readers of her Facebook page seem outraged that they’ve photoshopped out her abs.



Who is Camille? The National Post writes,

The world’s newest “Fittest Woman on Earth” is a 25-year-old chemical engineering student from Richelieu, Que. Camille Leblanc-Bazinet placed first at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games in Carson, Calif., in the women’s individual competition Sunday. Ms. Leblanc-Bazinet, who is 5-foot-2 and weighs 130 pounds, is a student at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec and started CrossFit training five years ago. The sport involves a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics and high intensity interval training.

I enjoyed reading an interview with her in Shape magazine on body image issues,

If you watched 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games winner Camille Leblanc-Bazinet snag the title of “fittest woman on Earth” last month, you may be surprised that the sculpted athlete once struggled with body image. “I used to run because I wanted to be skinny, and then I’d eat like crap,” the former gymnast explained about her pre-CrossFit days. “I would always feel miserable about myself, like ‘You’re not pretty enough.’ It was self-destructive.”

……. Now that Leblanc-Bazinet is a pro in the weight room, she holds her head just as high. “If I gain two pounds but I can lift 100 more pounds on my bar, I’m like, ‘Hell yeah,'” she says. “I only want to be fitter, stronger, faster, and healthier, and that’s given me tons of confidence.”

So I don’t think she’ll be too bent out of shape about the cover but the rest of us? I’m with the reddit commentator quoted above. We should celebrate strong, athletic women for their strength. No more Photoshop.

aging · Aikido · athletes · Crossfit · injury

Hold my calls, CrossFit, but I’ll be back!


Since my knee injury I’ve been reluctant to continue at CrossFit. It’s not them, it’s me.

The coaches at CrossFit are very good at modifying workouts to accommodate athletes’ particular injuries, abilities, and limitations.

But me? I’ve been told by a physiotherapist to stop the minute my knee hurts. I’m not sure that in the competitive CrossFit environment I’d be able to listen to my body in quite the way I need to. As many reps as possible? Sure. But then ouch? Not so sure I’d stop as needed.

Definitely no box jumps for me!

So I’m taking the summer off in hopes I’ll be well enough to go back in September. This will give me more time to focus on Aikido and cycling, neither of which seem to hurt my knee. I’ve had an x-ray, working with a physio, and an MRI is scheduled. Fingers crossed I can get back to running, CrossFit, and soccer soon.

If I’m not better in September my injured knee and me will report back to CrossFit London and learn to cope.

I’m missing you CrossFit! Even the burpees….but for the summer, I’ll be out on the road, keeping my injured knee happy.


athletes · body image · Crossfit

CrossFit and women’s bodies: It’s complicated

Image description: Blue sky, three athletes in silhouette climbing ropes

Let’s note that CrossFit doesn’t exist in isolation from the cultural forces that shape women’s desires to look a certain way and to embody a certain kind of athletic aesthetic. It might be that “strong is the new skinny” but if “strong” is a look rather than an ability there are a whole new set of problems that come out of the woodwork. Bodies vary and not everyone who gets strong builds muscle mass. Not everyone who builds muscle loses fat. Elite athletes aside, there a lot of different kinds of women’s bodies doing CrossFit.

Part of the problem is that at the elite level the fittest looking bodies of CrossFit (here’s one blogger’s list) has lots of overlap with the top athletes of CrossFit.  That doesn’t mean though you’ll get that body as your reward for CrossFit training no matter how dedicated you are. Two words: genetics and diet. You might just get fitter, faster, and stronger than you are now and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Fit and Feminist asks what happens when  the pursuits of “skinny” and “strong” collide. She writes, “Now, I support the general idea behind the phrase.  I would prefer that women – and men, really – work to cultivate their bodies’ abilities rather than fight against them in an attempt to meet our culture’s incredibly fickle beauty standards.  But I also have some issues with the execution, which, as I and many other fitness writers have argued, merely exchanges one unattainable physical ideal for another one.  I mean, I might have a shot at attaining a visible six-pack, while nothing short of a life-threatening wasting disease will give me a thigh gap, but the effort required for me to get visible abs is so tremendous that I might as well not even consider it a possibility.  Plus, it elevates one body type (muscles) at the expense of another (skinny), which is not exactly my definition of body-positivity.”

But it’s not irrational in a world where women are disproportionately rewarded for what we look like, rather than what we can do, to care about what your body looks like. Even if you’re a feminist committed to changing those pressures and expectations, it’s hard not to care. Let’s also note that CrossFit isn’t just a community (or cult, as some claim), it’s also a business. And sexy bodies sell. Given the incredible strong desires women have to look a certain way, it’s obvious that those desires explain some of the popularity of CrossFit.

It’s why Precision Nutrition’s Lean Eating program (reviewed here) teaches body acceptance and intuitive eating but seems to advertise its programs largely through before and after pics of Lean Eating body transformations (even though most of the Lean Eaters I did the program with changed their attitudes far more than their bodies.) I’ve gained back the weight I lost doing the Lean Eating program but I’m eating better and I feel like I have a lot more tools in my bag to figure out how to use food to nourish my body, get stronger, fitter, and faster. Ultimately I don’t think the program’s strengths lie in body transformations so much as mind transformations. But the former sells and the latter doesn’t.

CrossFit is much the same. The reality of women who do CrossFit is pretty varied. Within the two CrossFit boxes I’ve attended (currently taking a break due to my injured knee) there’s been no emphasis on body transformations or weight loss and lots of emphasis on strength and physical conditioning. I’ve never worked out in such a positive environment.

(I’m still angry though at the treatment of Chloie Jonsson.)

Now given that CrossFit is a massively popular program, growing at an incredible rate, it’s no surprise you’re going to find a range of experiences. Here’s some recent posts that express that diversity:


  • Accepting my CrossFit Body:
    “In real clothes, I feel boxy, broad, wide, thick, and all other synonyms. My once trusty companion, the size medium, stretches across my back and through my biceps and leaves me feeling insanely uncomfortable.This got me thinking. There are a lot of things about my body that have changed since I started crossfitting. Things I struggle on. Thing I love and hate at the same time. Starting from the head down.”


“I decided that it was time to REALLY celebrate what my ugly body CAN DO rather than focus on what it looks like…or doesn’t look like. So I asked my friend Emily, the amazing photographer at Southern Star Photography, to take some pictures of me DOING the THINGS I have NEVER, EVER…EVER in my entire life…not even as a kid (with the exception of the cartwheel) have been able to do until now. So here you go!  Today I am celebrating what my body is capable of doing because of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made and the hard work I’ve done in and out of the gym.”

“I’ve met lots of amazing looking women at CrossFit, it’s true. But these images do not do justice in anyway to the range of women who actually do this activity. The images are almost all young and lean, able bodied and white. Now I’ve only been to two CrossFit locations and I’ve been doing it for less than a year but what I’ve seen so far is a lot more diversity than I see in the images about CrossFit.

These images aren’t advertising, of course. Instead, they are the collections of photos from CrossFit community members and fans. But insofar as they do perform some work as promotional material for one of my favourite physical activities, I worry they are doing that activity a disservice.

If you’ve been thinking of giving CrossFit a try and find the super fit, super lean images off putting rather than inspirational, set the images aside and come see the reality.”

“CrossFit, as it grows in popularity, continues to evoke passionate opinions and intense commentary.  There are the CrossFitters who fall in love with a sport that means more than exercise.  There are the naysayers who believe it is dangerous and do their best to crucify it at every turn.  There are the enthusiasts and the detractors, both groups vocal and emphatic.

 For women, however, the opinions and judgments and commentary surrounding CrossFit take on an additional layer of complexity.  Those women who choose to participate in CrossFit are often discussed and dissected, as though somehow a science experiment open to any who wish to poke and prod and examine:

 Is it feminine to be a CrossFitter?  Are women who CrossFit pretty?  Are they too muscular?  Are they bulky?  Are they too manly?  Are they attractive? “

Image description: Black and white silhouettes of athletes doing a wide variety of sports



Wall Balls FTW but not for T Rex

T Rex hates wall balls

It’s the season of online quizzes. I’m a professor at the end of the university undergraduate year so my choice is to grade some more papers or take an online quiz. No contest.

Here’s What CrossFit Exercise Are You?

I’m a Wall Ball. Thankfully not a burpee!

For more on wall balls, read my report on Karen, the deceptively simple CrossFit workout which is 150 wall balls.

T-Rex may hate wall balls but they’re probably my favourite CrossFit exercise.

There were three tricks I had to master to make my peace with wall balls. First, I learned to take my glasses off. Wall ball to the face while wearing glasses isn’t fun and my optometrist wondered what I’d done to my frames. Second, it’s all about timing. Catch the ball on your way down into the squat. Third, to meet the “no rep” line on the wall–minimum acceptable wall ball height–jump on the way back up.